When your baby becomes a toddler (between 1 year and 3 years old) and starts to eat more solid food, it can be tricky to know what diet to feed them. On top of that, many toddlers can be fussy about what they eat and meal times can be hard to manage.
However, it’s essential that babies and young children get the right balance of nutrients, so once you know what your toddler needs for a healthy, balanced lifestyle, you can figure out a diet that works for them.
What vitamins and minerals should my toddler be getting?
Healthy eating for your toddler involves paying attention to the food groups and making sure your toddler has a varied diet. They should be getting a good balance of the 5 different food groups: carbohydrates, proteins, fruits and vegetables, dairy, and healthy fats. They also need high levels of DHA, iron, and fibre in their diet.
It’s also good to avoid foods with added sugars, as these can lead to problems such as heart disease and high blood pressure further down the line. You should try and include a variety of food in their diet, as this will ensure your toddler is getting enough nutrients and also make sure that they’re regularly trying new things. Offer your child something new alongside their familiar favourites; this way, they’re more likely to try different foods.
What foods contain DHA?
Although it’s not as commonly spoken about as iron or fibre, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is an omega-3 fatty acid and is essential for healthy brain development in children. Most children have quite low levels of DHA in their diet, so it’s good to catch it early and make sure your toddler’s getting enough. Fish is a good source of DHA, especially fatty fish like salmon, tuna, and mackerel.
What foods are high in iron?
It’s important that your child is getting enough iron in their diet, as iron helps the body store oxygen and move it around. Without enough iron, your child may develop a deficiency. However, there are many ways to ensure your toddler is getting enough iron.
Iron-rich foods include lean meats, fortified cereals, beans, and spinach. When eaten with vitamin C, like orange juice, your child’s body can absorb the iron from their food more easily.
What foods are high in fibre?
Fibre is great for making sure your toddler has healthy bowel movements. Fibre-rich foods particularly help with constipation, so if your toddler finds it hard to go to the toilet then you may want to increase the amount of fibre in their diet.
Whole-grain foods, such as brown rice or grain pasta have more fibre in them than white rice or pasta. Fruits like apples or pears are also high in fibre, although make sure you leave the skin on as this part is rich in nutrients. A lot of cereals also contain fibre.
You should be careful however not to feed your toddler too many high-fibre foods, as an excess of fibre can cause diarrhoea and bloating, as well as make constipation worse.
How do I make sure my toddler’s eating enough?
You may be worried that your toddler isn’t eating enough. Maybe they’re not finishing their meals, or maybe they complain that they’re hungry during the day.
It’s recommended that your toddler eats 3 meals a day and small snacks in between each meal. Space these out so that your toddler’s eating something every 2 to 3 hours. With all of these meal times, they’ll end up eating around 5 to 6 times a day.
If your toddler’s still complaining that they’re hungry, make sure that you’re bulking their meals out with filling foods like bread or pasta. You should ensure that their meals are high calorie enough to give them energy until they eat next, so don’t shy away from full fat foods like yoghurt, oily fish, or whole milk. If the problem continues, it may be worth speaking to a registered dietitian, as they can advise you on what may be causing this hunger.
What are some good meal ideas for my toddler?
With the chaos of having a toddler, you’re likely going to want easy meals to cook and quick healthy meals for your toddler to eat.
Snacks like peanut butter or cottage cheese and fresh fruit or vegetable sticks (like pepper, carrot, or apple) are packed full of protein, to help your toddler’s muscles grow. Finger foods will also make eating more exciting for your toddler and can help them with their dexterity. At meal times, you can also offer your toddler a cup of fruit juice as this can be a good source of vitamin C, or a cup of cow’s milk to give them calcium and promote healthy bone growth.
Kids meals should be about a quarter of the size of an adult portion. To get a good balance of the food groups, aim for a protein portion (meat, fish, beans), a carbohydrate portion (sweet potato, bread, pasta), and a side of vegetables (peas, broccoli, carrots). You can mix and match all sorts of foods when you follow this template.
Are there any foods my toddler should avoid?
As with any diet, it’s all about balance and moderation. Whilst foods with high sugar content or high levels of saturated fat aren’t great for your toddler, they’re okay as a treat every once in a while.
One thing to keep in mind is that babies and toddlers don’t need as much salt in their diet as adults do, as their kidneys are still developing and therefore won’t be able to process as much salty food. You should avoid salting the water when you boil pasta or rice and you don’t need to add salt to meals when cooking. If you’re worried about how much salt your toddler is eating, you can speak to your GP and they can advise you further.
Final thoughts from Kami
Making sure your toddler has healthy foods in their diet doesn’t have to be boring for them. Although it’s important to make sure your toddler is getting enough to eat, it’s good to switch it up often to keep things interesting. When you think about meal times for your toddler, prioritise getting a good balance of healthy foods in their diet and don’t be afraid to encourage them to try new things.